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How to Choose a Local Fish Store
When I was a boy we had one retail pet shop in our town. Half of the store was filled with aquariums. When you entered the shop the air was filled with the sound of a large air compressor and bubbling aquarium filters. I walked past the puppies and parakeets and headed straight to the aquarium room. The room was dark except for the day-glow lighting on the aquariums. The glowing fish were surreal. It was a mysterious and exciting adventure. Years later the best place to buy fish was from a guy who opened a shop in his garage. He did not advertise. Only the aquarium insiders knew how to get there! That was then. Today most of us have several fish shops within driving distance. It may be independent aquarium stores or a combination of chain and independent shops. Should you shop just one location? Who has the best marine fish? Can you trust their advice? There is no “one size fits all” answer. The best shop for you may not satisfy another reefer’s needs. There are, however, several things to consider when buying fish and shopping for supplies. I worked in an aquarium shop and have visited over 100 independent and chain stores as a consultant. I will let you in on some aquarium shop secrets that will help you make the right choice.
Shopping For Aquarium Supplies
If you are a serious reef aquarist, the local big box pet chain is not going to carry all the equipment and supplies you need. You won’t be driving over to “BigPet” on a Friday night to see the latest in protein skimmers. The corporate buyers for these chains know you are not shopping at their stores. They chose not to stock the advanced reef gear because it does not sell in their stores. They will make more money on plastic ornaments than LED lighting. It is simple economics. You may find some deals on basic water conditioners or a fish net. But don’t give up on the big chains just yet. We will talk more about them later. The best place to see hot new gear is in a specialty marine shop. A good local fish shop will bring in some of the latest equipment to try out in the store. Good gear shops tend to play with skimmers, lights and additives before agreeing to sell them to their customers. A good shop will be able to explain and demonstrate any piece of equipment they sell. The best shops use what they sell. I know a marine specialty shop that sells one brand of protein skimmer and a couple of reef additives. They do not stock any other products. They feel you should follow their philosophy of reef keeping because it works for them. On the opposite end, other fish stores stock a variety of items and let the customer decide what they like. If you are lucky, you will have several retail aquarium stores to choose visit and see what you like.
Shopping For Marine Fish and Invertebrates
Proper in-store care of saltwater fish and invertebrates is crucial for their survival. No one wants to introduce a sick fish into their saltwater aquarium. Invertebrates require specialized care to ease the transition from coral farm or collection point and into the store. So how do you know if a fish shop has good saltwater fish and inverts, without trial and error and spending a lot of cash? He are some qualities I see in a good local marine livestock dealers. Do they have stable reef tanks on display in the store? Nothing says experience like seeing beautiful, thriving fish and reef specimens in a display tank. A successful reef tank shows they have the skills necessary to keep fish and invertebrates alive. A great store will have their own coral frags. Chances are this level of shop will also have high-quality livestock. But what if the store does not have any display aquariums but they sell fish and inverts? Can they be trusted? If my shop had limited floor space I would choose to use every square foot to sell products, so I could stay profitable. What to do? Take a look at the aquariums. Are they dirty? Is the gravel or base clean or are their piles of debris in the corners? Is there adequate water movement and filtration? A good shop keeps their aquariums clean and functioning properly. Take a close look at the livestock. Do the fish look healthy and active? Do they eat well? Ask an employee what they feed a particular fish. Good staff will know what each fish likes to eat. A really good store will tell you if a certain fish has not been eating or is not quite ready for sale. The same goes with invertebrates. Are the corals placed carefully in the display tanks? Do they look healthy and clean? Can the staff answer your questions about lighting requirements and feeding? If so, you’ve found a reliable store!
Big Box pet shops normally do not stock a variety of marine fish and invertebrates. I do know some of these stores have reef enthusiasts working in the fish departments. These dedicated marine enthusiasts bring their expertise to work, transforming the saltwater section from mediocre to a real gem. You’ll also be able to get knowledgeable advice from employees who are actually involved in marine and reef keeping. How to know? Ask questions. Check out the health of the livestock. If the employee starts talking about their own reef tank, you probably found a helpful store.
Shopping for Information
Finding a fish shop staffed by caring, skilled aquarists is a real treasure. They have spent years learning how to teach their customers how to have a thriving saltwater fish aquarium or reef tank. Even the friendliest retail shop owners dislike it when people come in, get all the tips and information they can, and never buy their gear or livestock from that store. Yes, you may pay a little more in a smaller retail specialty shop but you also get top-notch support and expertise from the owner. Everything you buy will be backed by help and advice when you need it. The local fish guy cares about his customers and will go the extra mile to help you. This is worth far more than a couple of dollars saved by buying elsewhere.
What Works For You?
In reality most of us shop locally and through on-line dealers. Sometimes there are on-line sales that can’t be passed buy. For some reef aquarists the only way to get corals is through the on-line network of “basement” coral fraggers. But for most of us, the best way to insure we are getting the healthiest fish, strongest invertebrates and great advice is to establish a relationship with a good local fish shop. You’ll get the best of everything and make friends with fellow marine aquarists in your own community.